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28 May 2024
The Cumbrian Duo: Bleckell Murry Neet

Ed Heslam (guitar)
Jean Altshuler (harp)

Bleckell Murry Neet is an album of Cumbrian music played on the guitar and harp. Ed Heslam has a background in classical guitar playing, as a soloist and in various ensembles, while Jean Altshuler has built a career as an orchestral harpist and, more recently, playing the lever harp in chamber music. For this album, Jean has returned to the pedal harp, giving a more resonant sound which perfectly complements the rich tone of the Carrillo guitar, as well as allowing more scope in arranging the music.
The content represents a snapshot of musical themes which would have been familiar to the people of Cumberland and Westmorland during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Bleckell Murry Neet carries with it the history of a bygone era. It alludes to a time when dialect was widely spoken (and sung) in Cumberland and Westmorland; to a period when everyday people danced with an energy and passion that is now hard to imagine and to an era when the town of Whitehaven was at the centre of trade and communications, while central Lakeland was merely an obscure backwater. The album consists of a series of melodies gleaned from the manuscripts of Cumbrian musicians. These old tunes carry the hint of stories of love lost, of love yearned for and of love found; they allude to tales of the Border Reivers and stories of the corruption and electoral fraud of the rich landed gentry who often exerted a malign control over the region and its people.
Bleckell Murry Neet is not an attempt to recreate the sound of the past. The Lakeland fiddle-playing tradition died out at the beginning of the twentieth century and, with the demolition of the White Ox pub (scene of the party mentioned in the title track) in 1904, the ballads of Robert Anderson became a vague and distant memory forgotten to all but a few. The melodies do, however, live on in this album within new musical forms. Heslam and Altshuler are respectful of the past, but they are not in thrall to it. They take the view that musical traditions are not fixed and static and, while the basic tunes continue to be played, the overall context moves on with the times. This is just as it was back in the 1840s when John Rook of Waverton took up his pipes and his violin and created his own variations on the well-known melodies of the period. 


Malecot Manuscript transcr. Ed Heslam: Melony Jigg

Rook Manuscript transcr. Ed Heslam: What Ails This Heart of Mine

North Lonsdale Magazine transcr. Ed Heslam: Slates Away, Time to Play

Susanna Blamire transcr. Ed Heslam: And Ye Shall Walk in Silk Attire

Robert Anderson transcr. Ed Heslam: Silly Andrew

Robert Anderson transcr. Ed Heslam: Geordie Gill

Robert Anderson transcr. Ed Heslam: Bleckell Murry Neet

Browne Manuscript transcr. Ed Heslam: Appleby Election Hornpipe

Rook Manuscript transcr. Ed Heslam: Alice Gray

Ed Heslam: Hughie the Graeme

Rook Manuscript transcr. Ed Heslam: My Dearie, If Thou Die

Harrison Manuscript transcr. Ed Heslam: Andrew Carey

Ed Heslam: The Howk Reel

Ed Heslam: Tears That Must Ever Fall

Recorded in St John's Church, Keswick, UK on 8th & 9th October 2020
Booklet design: Fiona Heslam, Ed Heslam & Willowhayne Records
Recording Engineering, Editing & Production: Mark Hartt-Palmer
Total Time: 70:52
Release Date: February 2022

Ed Heslam (guitar)Ed Heslam is a composer and classical guitarist who worked for many years as Head of Music in several West Country schools, first in Devon then later in Bristol. During this time he wrote and produced many musicals and composed music for contemporary dance projects. Has was a member of an early music consort and a folk dance band. He made a number of arrangements of traditional folk melodies. After retiring from teaching Ed moved back to Cumberland, the county of his birth, where he started researching old local music manuscripts. He found a great deal of interesting, unpublished material in the tunebooks of 18th and 19th century fiddle players and a wealth of old songs long forgotten in the county (except by a few aficionados). Initially, he created arrangements for solo guitar, then guitar/harp duets after teaming up with Jean Altshuler. These first arrangements of old Cumbrian music were an attempt to recreate something akin to the original performance style of the music. Latterly, he has taken the view that the old melodies can be developed into new music and set into a new context. He has arranged many of the songs of Susanna Blamire (1747–1794) and Robert Anderson (1770 – 1833) and created new compositions inspired by the Cumbrian landscape and the stories of its people.

Jean Altshuler (harp)Jean Altshuler has been playing the harp since she was seven. She attended Music and Art High School in New York and graduated from Oberlin Conservatory on a harp scholarship. After many years as principal harpist with several American orchestras she moved to the Lake District where she now lives. She is a founding member of Harps Northwest and has taught workshops on early music and Eastern European tunes arranged for lever harp.

She met classical guitarist Ed Heslam in January 2016 after seeing an anthology of his music beside the unique and extraordinary musical stones at the Keswick museum of local history. Since then she has enjoyed learning and playing Ed’s arrangements of tunes from Cumberland and Westmorland. They have performed at venues throughout the North of England and Scotland.

WHR071     View Booklet     UPC: 5060742690155

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